Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Joel Tolli

By Academy Xi

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joel tolli Academy Xi Student testimonial

Keen to carve out a career he was passionate about, Joel stepped out of podiatry and into the exciting world of UX Design. Find out how the UX UI Design: Transform course helped Joel land the role he was after.

What were you doing before studying with Academy Xi?

I spent four years at university studying podiatry and worked in the field for two years. By the third year of university, I already knew it wasn’t the right long-term career for me.

 It took a little while for me to make the decision to change my path. Eventually, I quit my job without a plan and started working temporarily as a labourer with my Dad. I spent about three months doing research trying to find a career I’d really enjoy. This time, I wanted to make a decision based on passion.

 During my career transition, I delved into my unexplored creative side and I really wanted to find a career that would harness that. While I was looking at jobs within tech I stumbled across UX Design, which is creative but isn’t just about visual design work in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s practical and centred around designing solutions that solve real problems.

 Because it combined creativity and problem-solving, I realised UX Design was a career that suited me perfectly and even allowed me to use many of the skills that I’d learned during podiatry. Retraining was a big decision, but I went for it and never looked back.

Why did you pick Academy Xi?

I looked closely at a few courses, but the Academy Xi schedule seemed the most user-friendly. The classes were held twice a week, but there was lots of flexibility when it came to working through the course content. Some of the other courses expected you to block-out your calendar with commitments, which for me just wasn’t possible. 

 I was also drawn to the Career Support Program. Landing a new role was my main objective, so having that support throughout my job search was very important. Finally, I researched the course mentors, and everybody seemed to have a strong amount of industry experience.   

How did you find working with your mentor?

My mentor was Hayden and we hit it off straight away. He’s a fun, interesting character and his passion for UX is unmatched, which I think lit a fire in a lot of people.

 Whenever Hayden was explaining something about UX, he always found a way to tie it back to a real industry scenario that he’d experienced. He also encouraged us to start networking with people already established in UX. 

 As the course progressed, I ramped up my efforts to connect with people in the industry. I have family friends who are already involved with UX and I also connected with professionals through LinkedIn. I wanted to figure out what it takes to be successful in the field and start building some of those habits into my life. For anyone keen to break into the industry, I’d recommend reaching out to other designers and starting a conversation.

What projects did you work on?

For my personal project, I tackled the water wastage problem in the major Australian cities. Truthfully, I made a lot of mistakes with my first project. It was a steep learning curve and gave me the experience I needed to properly approach the client projects. For the two client projects, I worked with Westpac and a startup called FitFun. 

 FitFun is trying to revolutionise the fitness industry by focusing on community and collaboration. Because it was a startup, everything was very fast-paced and we were able to carry out a huge amount of work. My team built a full design strategy for FitFun in just three weeks. 

 For Westpac, we were given the task of redesigning what their autopay function could look and feel like. Even though it’s a relatively small piece of their transactional process, if the process wasn’t optimised it could dissuade a potential customer from using the function. In the end, we had the time and resources to scope out what we thought was an untapped market opportunity. We presented it to Westpac and they were really impressed. Both clients were very happy with the work the teams carried out.

How did you find working in teams? 

As a podiatrist, I’d typically work alone. I’d have no one else in the clinic, so I learned to solve problems by myself. In a group setting, you must understand that you’re not an expert at everything. There are people around who have experience in a range of areas. I’d look at people’s projects and be wowed by the beauty of the design work or impressed by the depth of the research. 

 You start to understand that you can delegate the tasks based on people’s expertise. That approach really allows you to work agile – you’ve got people collaborating on different parts of the project at the same time. Because everybody was playing to their strengths, it meant their work could really shine, which led to a better end result for the group.

 Working in teams is such an important experience, because UX Designers hardly ever work alone. Even if you’re the only UX Designer, you’ll be collaborating with other departments and working cross-functionally. In that sense, the team projects prepare you for the real-world dynamic of UX.  

How did you find studying online? 

Honestly, I was jealous of all the people working from home throughout the pandemic! I loved studying online. Some people prefer doing things face-to-face, but online learning gives you unparalleled levels of flexibility. You have set times for the live classes, but how you use your time before and after is completely up to you. 

 With other courses that require you to regularly be somewhere, there’s so much more demand on your time, which can lead to burnout. When you’re studying online, all that matters is that you’re getting through the work. It really doesn’t matter when and where it gets done. 

 Plus, there were three or four communication channels that the cohort stayed connected through, and you’re regularly in Zoom meetings with each other during the client projects. I never felt like I was studying alone. 

How did you land your new role? 

I got back from a holiday over New Year’s and worked on my portfolio, CV and base cover letter. I was really motivated to find a job and get started with my career, so I set a personal target of 50 applications in 50 days. 

 I was knee deep in interviews when a UX designer at Symbio reached out to me. She had spoken to Academy Xi in the hope to find someone ‘up and coming’ and passionate about launching a career in UX.  After a few interviews with her and the Head of Marketing, where we discussed what the role would entail and how I could add value to the team, I was overjoyed to be offered the job.

 I did sign up for the Career Support Program, but thankfully I landed a role before the program even kicked off. That said, lots of people in the cohort did go through the program and found it really helpful. 

How’re you getting on with the new role at Symbio?

I’ll start with a bit of a background. Symbio has been around for about 20 years – it was started by two friends who dreamt big about what voice products could become in the future. Today, Symbio is a tech company, selling Global XaaS products to different segments of the market – from big companies like Google and Zoom, to smaller telcos, and even government enterprises.

 My work varies, I’ve gone from one business division to the next working on completely different projects. I might come in during the discovery phase and be asked to conduct some research or build a wireframe so a new feature can be tested. This has given me the opportunity to pick up all kinds of skills, especially within stakeholder management and advocacy.  

Did the course prepare you for the role?

The fast-paced nature of the Academy Xi course prepares you for the industry, where you must produce high quality work very quickly and at times, on demand. Completing the course projects in three-week sprints was an accurate representation of how you’re expected to work once you’ve broken into UX. 

 Symbio also runs regular tech talks and I delivered one a few weeks back, which was a great way to spread the word about the value of UX. Whilst I’ve always been a confident speaker, I hadn’t had much experience with public speaking prior to the course. The projects gave me the opportunity to improve upon those soft skills and build them into my capabilities.  

Can you tell us about your involvement with Academy Xi since you’ve graduated?

It’s a challenging course, especially for those with a unique career history, but the payoff for the commitment is immense. 

I like to say, based on my career shift, that if I can do it, anyone can. I’m truly passionate about this industry and think it should be accessible for anyone who shares that passion. I always jump in to talk to the new students whenever a new cohort starts to try and give them some practical advice and a bit of inspiration. 

Beyond that, Symbio was also the client for both projects with a recent cohort. It was a great experience to be on the other side of the brief and provided another learning opportunity for me. To be able to witness their dedication and hard work on a complex and challenging brief was awesome and is something that will stay with me forever. It’s been nice to stay involved with Academy Xi and I’ll definitely continue to work with you folks in the future.

 Finally, would you recommend Academy Xi?

For anyone that is maybe lacking a bit of passion within their work and hoping to do something meaningful and creative, UX is a career that you should consider. The Academy Xi course has given me the opportunity to do it every day, and I’d happily recommend it to anyone wanting to do the same. 

 Want to bring the power of UX UI Design to your career just like Joel? If so, check out our UX UI Design: Transform course.

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